Huntsville reviewing the north side of Florence Street West property for affordable housing
Huntsville General Committee agreed to consider the north side of Florence Street West for a land transfer for affordable housing, in the October 25, 2023, meeting.
Muskoka Community Land Trust (MCLT) approached the Committee about the potential to transfer the Town owned land, located on lot 72 to 82, Block D, plan 21, part lot 12, concession 1, as a land trust project, to develop the land into a affordable housing for the community.
The non-profit uses a funding model that begins with a land trust from municipalities, and land grants and subsidies from a variety of sources, and these “soft costs” help get projects started.
MCLT representative, Suzanne Martin, indicated funding is how they can maintain affordability to residents. She said, “The funding is crucial to offer properties affordability.”
Martin said the Florence Street land is accommodating and has the space to allow for things like setbacks, community gardens, snow storage, waste, and recycling.
She said they cut costs by building smaller homes and multi-resident higher density units in phases, minimize stairs and create pathways through nearby infrastructure, which will also help with accessibility and be aligned with the Town’s active transportation initiative.
If all goes well, they hope to “have the shovels in the ground in 2024,” said Martin.
Mayor, Nancy Alcock, said, “I get very excited about this… I’m just so pleased we’re at this stage.”
Councillor, Scott Morrison, concurred with Alcock and expressed appreciation that the organization is starting with Huntsville. He referred to it as “significant development in our Town we can get behind.” He explained the Town has a Backlog with social housing. “People that need it can’t get in.”
Morrison inquired about whether there is more the organization can do to work with the government “so they can get more on top of what you guys are doing.”
Martin said they are focused on their model for the time being. She added, “Creating this development will open 161 housing units – 400 people – and opening that space in the housing continuum. I’m hoping that in itself will have a big impact.”
Councillor, Dione Schumacher, expressed appreciation for the initiative. She said, “Businesses are lacking because people want to move here and can’t find housing.”
Martin advised that the housing will “reflect a micro-community” with a certain number of housing that will go to the working force, elderly, and community living.
Councillor, Helena Renwick, inquired about whether the MCLT wanted other locations.
Martin answered, “We are happy to accept any land that comes our way.” They are exploring various locations in Town. She said, “We had presentations with Bracebridge and Gravenhurst and are hoping the model in Huntsville can be repeated across Muskoka.”
Renwick inquired about how long a person that purchases a home can stay there, and whether it was a typical 30-year time frame.
Martin agreed. She said, “The hope is to have different models of housing style, ownership and occupancy.” She added, “We hope they stay and build value… And somebody moves on to more traditional model and open space for others.”
Alcock expressed concern about a land transfer due to a previous negative experience the Town had. She said, “Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the best experience from a legal perspective for us… What have you done on a legal side?”
Martin advised they can build from the Vancouver land trust site that was successful as they have access to information from that process. She said they have access to many legal agreements used and will get copies to protect the municipality and land trust.
She added that this is also why the development is phased, “Land is not lost if it doesn’t work. Time is lost but the municipality can reclaim the land.”
Councillor, Monty Clouthier, said, “I think we should get behind this.” He suggested they are more protected with this situation than the previous land transfer. “So, I don’t think we absolutely have anything to lose here.”
Renwick inquired about how long it would take staff to report back with the review.
Alcock said, “I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm around this table and more importantly with the land trust. So, it’s a big ask.”
CAO, Denise Corry, advised that she would have to check with the team about a timeline. She added, “It definitely would be a high priority… We absolutely recognize the importance of this project, so we’ll do it as quickly as we can.”
Renwick expressed that communication to the public is essential because people have expressed concern about the land in their neighborhood being developed. She said, “I would love to go forward but I think we have to be sensitive to the fact that there are certain people in the neighborhood that live there, that love the property the way it is.”
Alcock clarified that it is the “new Florence Street” property that is being considered, not the old one. “The old property was right in the center of an existing neighbourhood, and so that’s not what we’re proposing. It’s across the street, and a much larger property, and not surrounded with homes.”
Staff will review the potential for the land and report back to Committee with development options and the transfer process for affordable housing.